President Trump was poised Wednesday to sign a pair of executive orders (EO) meant to expedite federal approval of natural gas, oil and other energy projects.
Trump was scheduled to visit the International Union of Operating Engineers' International Training and Education Center in Crosby, TX, "and sign executive orders on energy and infrastructure," according to a Tweet from the White House.
One far-reaching EO would direct the Environmental Protection Agency to update guidance on states' authority under the Clean Water Act (CWA), direct the Department of Transportation to permit rail shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG), direct the Labor Department to decide if activist investors that target energy companies are complying with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and speed renewals of rights-of-way for energy projects, according to published reports. A second EO would limit the length of the permit process for cross-border energy projects to 60 days.
Industry groups were quick to voice their support for Trump's announcement.
"Currently, the process for reviewing and approving new or expanded interstate natural gas pipelines is robust and transparent -- two things that we continue to believe are essential -- but procedural inefficiencies can delay a process that already spans several years," said Don Santa, CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. "Streamlining the process to ensure it is safe, comprehensive and predictable is a top priority, along with EPA clarifying Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification requirements so that one state cannot interfere with interstate commerce."
The first EO would take "important steps toward fixing broken parts of the state water certification process for pipelines without compromising on environmental standards," said Dena Wiggins, CEO of the Natural Gas Supply Association. "As a result, consumers will be able to get a fair shake at getting the natural gas they need for clean electricity, winter heating and industrial manufacturing."
Trump's move "sets the stage for key updates to federal standards for LNG facilities, transitioning to a modern, risk-based analysis for LNG facilities, all while ensuring proper environmental safeguards," said Center for LNG Executive Director Charlie Riedl. "This will allow LNG projects to implement the latest technologies and improve their operating procedures."
The EOs could make it more difficult for states to use Section 401 of the CWA to block pipeline projects, a battle that has been waged for some time in New York. Trump's EO would direct EPA to update guidance for states to comply with Section 401, ending "confusion and uncertainty" about states' roll in the process, administration officials have said.
"We have previously seen some states use the 401 permit process to essentially stall valid pipeline projects, and that isn't right," said GPA Midstream Association CEO Mark Sutton. "I applaud this administration for taking a stand against this type of invalid action. Too often we see bureaucracies stopping growth; it's great to see an administration promoting a pro-growth and pro-jobs agenda for the midstream industry."
Environmental groups were just as quick to criticize Trump's EOs.
"This is a massive abuse of power that does nothing other than line the pockets of Trump's fossil fuel billionaire friends, all at the expense of our democracy and our safety," said 350.org executive director May Boeve.
The White House announced the EOs just days after Trump granted a new presidential permit to a long-stalled segment of TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone XL oil pipeline, a move analysts interpreted as an attempt to moot state-based court and regulatory actions holding up the $8 billion project.